Banks can take steps to turn around diminishing public opinion about their services by not only meeting their baseline expectations but going beyond to engage them emotionally by generating confidence and showing integrity, according to a management journal.

Writer Douglas Berlon notes in the Gallup Management Journal that that while honesty and ethics ratings for bankers have fallen, applying lessons gleaned from customer satisfaction and engagement surveys, bankers can move toward turning around their image in customers' eyes, creating greater loyalty and ultimately, profits.

In an honesty and ethics poll released last November by Gallup only 23 percent of Americans in 2008 rated their bankers as very high or high in those categories. That was a 12 percent decline from the previous year and the lowest rating ever for bankers, the poll said.

To turn around those flagging numbers, bankers will need to do more than the minimum.

Rational satisfaction alone isn't enough to generate the emotional attachment that ultimately will make customers more valuable to the business, especially during times of low public opinion, Berlon notes, basing his observation on findings by researchers John H. Fleming and Jim Asplund. Focusing solely on satisfying customers in the current stormy financial climate is a losing proposition.

Fully engaged customers mean a 23 percent premium in terms of wallet while actively disengaged customers mean a 13 percent discount, he writes.

He then notes a progression of necessary steps to build engagement. The first is instilling confidence in customers to gain trust that the bank will work for them as it says. Integrity must also follow, that is, treating customers fairly and resolving problems equitably.

Next is generating a feeling of pride in the customer in doing business with the bank. Finally, customers should feel a sense of passion in doing business with their bank.

These customers believe that the bank is perfect for people like them -- so much so that they can't imagine a world without it, Berlon says.

Achieving this will require a change in the day-to-day behavior of the bank, doing the little things which add up, he notes. Simple transparency and customer advocacy are good starting points he says.

Another move is to emphasize a commitment to and involvement in the community. That is backed up by Gallup polls which shows that proximity is related to trust.

Lots of competitors won't try to engage their customers which is why it's enough reason to keep customers fully engaged, Berlon notes.

They're letting macroeconomic forces drive them, and they're assuming that their customers are caught by inertia to leave, he says. Prove that you're different, and those customers are yours. And in tough financial times, those are customers your bank needs.